High tech meets high fashion

Special to the Los Angeles Times

From digitally printed textiles to stylish tech gadgets and even wearable computing, the ever-growing partnership of fashion and technology is catapulting the design world into a whole new dimension.

Evidence was everywhere at the New York fall-winter 2013 fashion presentations in February — from models tweeting as they walked the runway at the end of the Kenneth Cole show to Vivienne Tam’s “propaganda print” dresses bearing a pattern that incorporated QR barcodes, readable by scanners to link back to Tam’s Facebook page.

Digital printing

Just a few years ago, digital textile printing was hailed as a fashion innovation, most notably when the late Alexander McQueen showed vivid digitally printed, reptile-patterned dresses in his spring 2010 collection. Now nearly every major fashion house uses digital prints.


For instance, designer Daniella Clarke, creator of local denim brand Frankie B., is offering stretch denim leggings digitally printed with a night photograph of the Los Angeles skyline taken near Figueroa Street. The style is to be available for $189 at Bloomingdale’s stores as of June 15.

Another new permutation is a collaboration between New York fashion designer Alexander Wang and Samsung Electronics. For the project, Wang enrolled a group of friends and fashion influencers, including Barneys New York creative ambassador-at-large Simon Doonan and fashion photographer Hugh Lippe, to create sketches on Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphones. Wang then combined them to create a crowd-sourced digital pattern. The final print will be featured on a limited-edition leather Wallie Gym Sack backpack to be sold this summer at

Wearable computers

Up in Silicon Valley, all the hype is about “wearable computing.”


Google’s “Glass” technology debuted at Diane von Furstenberg’s spring-summer 2013 fashion presentation, where models donned the “augmented reality” eyewear that puts digital information literally in front of your eyes. Featuring Google Voice Search, a built-in camera, microphone and GPS, the high-tech specs take photos and video footage, plus act as a smartphone, navigation system and more. Apps that work with the glasses are in development. Stylish in a geek chic kind of way, the developer version of

the highly anticipated glasses, called the Glass Explorer Edition, can be pre-ordered for $1,500 only by the winners of Google’s #IfIHadGlass contest. A consumer version, expected to be significantly less expensive, is to be released late this year or possibly in early 2014. Apple, Microsoft and Sony are all said to be working on competitive designs.

Much less high-tech, the tiny, wearable “life blogging” Memoto camera, funded on crowd-sourcing investment site Kickstarter, clips to a jacket or shirt and automatically takes a photo every 30 seconds. While the lack of an on-off button may seem like a drawback at first, it is exactly what captures all those precious, unguarded moments, which are what life is about — or, rather, what it was like before cellphone cameras and social media existed. The miniature camera with a built-in GPS ($279 by pre-order at does shut down when placed in a dark place, such as a pocket or purse, and synchs with a computer to upload geo-tagged images to the company’s cloud storage space. Images can also be downloaded to a computer.

Launching another form of wearable tech, New York-based menswear designer Asher Levine partnered with Phone Halo to implant TrackR’s Bluetooth tracking chips in higher-priced outerwear, gloves and a weekend bag in his fall-winter 2013 fashion collection. If an item is lost, a “separation reminder notification” lets you know that you have left your coat or gloves behind; the items can be tracked via a smartphone or iPad using an app that triggers an audible alarm or a silent proximity indicator. The trackable coats and accessories were available for pre-order beginning May 13 at

“I see a future where fashion and technology are as one, where the clothing interacts with its wearer and the environment, augmenting the experience of being human,” says Levine, who has dressed stars such as Rita Ora, Bruno Mars, and Lady Gaga.

Three dimensions

New 3-D printers that print in length, width and depth mean that designers can actually print multi-dimensional forms, such as jewelry, shoes and garments. In March, burlesque dancer and style maven Dita Von Teese stepped out in a black powdered nylon gown, printed entirely on a 3-D printer and designed by Los Angeles fashion designer Michael Schmidt in collaboration with Brooklyn architect Francis Bitonti. The open-weave dress, assembled from 17 printed pieces with 3,000 connective joints, was designed entirely on an iPad and printed by New York-based 3-D printing company Shapeways.

Schmidt, who created Lady Gaga’s glass bubble bodysuit in 2009 and counts Debbie Harry, Madonna and Rihanna among his clients, says that he and Bitonti “intend to continue exploring the boundaries of the technology.... This will include projects for the entertainers I design for, as well as a [3-D] jewelry collection, which is in development now.”


New, smaller 3-D color printers, designed for use at home, were star attractions at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in Las Vegas in January. The compact Cube and CubeX 3-D color printers by 3D Systems (from $1,295 at print objects up to 10 inches in each dimension. Each printer comes with basic models, and available apps include designs for basic jewelry and other objects. The site also offers new 3DMe figurines: miniature action heroes or heroines personalized with your face from an uploaded photo. Other 3-D goods can be bought and sold in the online marketplaces at both and

The new 3-D fashion design site allows anyone to create customized ready-to-wear fashion. The company transforms an uploaded photograph into digitally printed fabric. Then the customer selects from a variety of basic fashion silhouettes, and a 3-D design tool will custom size the pattern to fit the exact body measurements. Garments are individually printed, cut and sewn in three weeks and come complete with a label bearing the customer’s name. Fabric swatches can also be requested for advance approval.

Tech accessories

The other next big little thing in the wearable computing world is the smartwatch. Designed to synch with your smartphone, the smartwatch helps eliminate phone dependency by flashing caller ID, messages and other key data on its face. In other words, forget that constant fumbling with your cellphone while driving or dining out. The Pebble smartwatch, one of the highest-funded products on Kickstarter, was another show-stopper at CES. With an array of downloadable face designs that give it museum-worthy style, the waterproof smartwatch ($150 at displays the time, caller ID, text messages, Twitter, email, calendar alerts and weather updates, and looks good doing it. Additional apps in the works will enable Pebble to control music, display cycling and biking data or morph into a golf rangefinder. Companies such as Google, Samsung and Apple are all said to have smartwatches (or iWatches) in the works.

Hair accessories made a statement in so many fall 2013 fashion collections, and soon there will be headband headphones, thanks to a CES debut from the latest celebrity to get into electronics: reality television star Snooki. Embellished with bows, feathers, flowers and rhinestones, the headphones disguised as headbands are part of the Snooki Couture by Nicole Polizzi collection, a partnership with audio accessory company iHip that also includes earring earbuds, tech cases and rhinestone-encrusted cellphone handsets that range from $24.99 to $59.99.

“I’m so excited to have headphones with style!” says Polizzi. “I love listening to my music and being accessorized.”

One piece of wearable tech that fashion-forward women might be eager to get theirs hands on is the wireless clutch handbag speaker by recently launched Newport Beach company Stellé Audio Couture. Made to look like a luxury designer handbag with a snakeskin, ostrich or black woven finish, the clutch ($299) pops open to reveal speakers that stream music or double as a speakerphone. New York fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, who originally hails from San Diego, has designed two additional versions of the clutch in stingray and silver-studded leather, both available in three colors, for $399 each. The clutch speakers are available at and Fred Segal stores in West Hollywood and Santa Monica.

Created by Anna Perelman and her husband, Wayne Ludlum, the founder of electronics company Vestalife, Stellé Audio Couture caters exclusively to women with its “female-centric lifestyle audio products” that are both fashionable and portable. “Women outspend men in consumer electronics, yet it’s an industry that has not truly catered to her ... until now,” says Perelman.


Fashion for gadgets

Two other local companies, Computer Apparel in Studio City and Pursecase in Santa Monica, are dressing tech gadgets in miniature clothing and accessories. A gold chain-handle bag with a quilted pattern may call to mind Chanel’s signature flap bag, but this tiny version in colorful silicone by Pursecase is sized to fit an iPhone. Pursecase is designed with convenience (and a light night out) in mind, featuring a slim card pocket in back and a compact mirror under the flap.

“We love our clutches and our totes, but what’s a girl to do when her once-trusty carryall becomes a Bermuda Triangle for cellphones?” say Kelley Coughlan, who co-founded Pursecase with Jenn Deese, also her business partner at Melrose PR in Santa Monica. The two tout the case as a solution for keeping a phone and essentials at your fingertips.

Designer brothers Zack and Roger Ein of Computer Apparel have downsized their favorite V-neck T-shirt and cozy fleece sweat shirt and tweaked them to function as tablet and laptop sleeves (from $39.99 at The “hoodie sleeve” features a kangaroo pocket that zips on both ends to cleverly serve as a bonus phone case. “We’ve taken the design elements straight out of your closet and merged them with all the features you’d expect in a computer bag,” says a sales sheet from the company. Perhaps best of all, if you spill on them, these cases can move directly into the wash.